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Central Washington University

CWU Honors Distinguished Poet in Recognition of Native American Heritage Month

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Photo of Joy Harjo

In recognition of Native American Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Day, CWU is honoring the people, culture, and land on which the Ellensburg campus rests.


“Central Washington University sits on Yakama nation land that was ceded in the Treaty of 1855,” noted Kandee Cleary, the university’s vice president of Inclusivity and Diversity. “There’s a lot to learn from Native cultures that is relevant to university life, which benefits our students, faculty, and the community.”


Cleary added that Native Americans continue to play significant roles and make key contributions to society, including in cultural aspects—such as foods, folklore, and stories—entertainment—including film and music—science, and literature.


A prime example of the latter is the work of award-winning poet Joy Harjo, who is now serving as the first Native American woman named the United States poet laureate. In recognition of her achievement, Harjo is being honored throughout the month in a large first-floor display in the CWU James E. Brooks Library.


“We decided to highlight Joy Harjo’s work because she brings an important voice to American literature,” says Rebecca Lubas, CWU dean of Library Services. “Her poetry gives voice to the will to survive, and connects the natural world with the inner spirit.”


Harjo, has authored eight books of poetry. Her latest, An American Sunrise, released this year by W. W. Norton, confronts injustices endured by the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, of which she is a member. Harjo, who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.


Since 1941, the country’s poet laureate has been appointed annually by the Librarian of Congress to serve a one-year September to May term. He or she subsequently presents a reading and lecture at the Library of Congress and engages in other community-oriented poetry projects around the country.


Native American Heritage Month is aimed at providing increased opportunities for sharing various aspects of Native American culture, concepts, and ways of life. The underlying goal is to establish greater camaraderie, respect, and understanding among all Americans. That will include some new signage that will be soon seen in the Brooks Library.


“We are now in the process of having one of our ‘Libraries are for Everyone’ signs translated into Sahaptin, the Yakama language,” Lubas said. “We expect to have it placed in the library foyer by early next year, if not sooner. We are excited about this opportunity to further acknowledge and respect the connections between our university and the Yakama Nation.”


Cover of most recent CWU's student-run lifestyle magazine PULSE, for which one of the spotlight stories was on “Being Native American.”Governor Jay Inslee has proclaimed the fourth Friday of November as Native American Heritage Day in Washington. President George H. W. Bush actually declared November would be observed annually as National American Indian Heritage Month 29 years ago.


Lubas points out that the library this year has also purchased three databases of digitized material pertaining to Native American cultures: American Indian Histories and Cultures, American Indian Newspapers, and Indigenous Peoples North America.


“University faculty, students, employees, and staff can access these new resources remotely with their Central computer login credentials,” Lubas said. “Community members may also use them on the public access computers on the first floor of Brooks.”


Media contact: Robert Lowery, Department of Public Affairs, director of Radio Services and Integrated Communications, 509-963-1487,


Photo No. 1: Joy Harjo


Photo No. 2: Cover of most recent CWU's student-run lifestyle magazine PULSE, for which one of the spotlight stories was on “Being Native American.”

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